Why Picture Books Are Important by Laura Krauss Melmed

by Dianne on November 14, 2017

Why Picture Books Are Important by Laura Krauss Melmed

In reflecting on why picture books are important I began to think of all the ways in which they have mattered to me and the life of my family. It all started when I was very young. Both my parents were great readers and books were a given in our household. While my father told great bedtime stories my mother and I shared a different special bond – that of delighting in picture books together. The seed planted then blossomed into a lifetime passion.

We owned a large library of Little Golden Books, small cardboard-bound books priced to be affordable to families of modest means like my own, sold in supermarket and drugstores. In these books, gifted authors and illustrators like Margaret Wise Brown, Garth Williams, Eloise Wilkin, and Tibor Gergely (whose name I loved!) drew me into simple stories of adventure or everyday family life. Regular visits to the public library resulted in hauling home a stash of larger format picture books whose words I listened to raptly while poring over the illustrations. My all-time favorite was Madeline because this feisty little girl who danced to her own drummer was someone I wanted to be. Recently asked to name a favorite from her childhood, my grown daughter picked Madeline for exactly the same reason!

As a graduate student in Early Childhood Education, I learned the importance and uses of quality literature in an early learning environment. New to me were books by Maurice Sendak, Charlotte Zolotow, Ezra Jack Keats and others that helped children to explore their own emotions and feel included in ways that hadn’t been put forth in picture books before. Sharing a book with a classroom full of enthusiastic kids is different from cuddling up with a book and your own child, but it is equally gratifying in its way (and something I continue to do as a visiting author and literacy tutor).

Flash forward a bunch of years to my husband and I as the parents of three young children. Now I could reproduce the warmth and wonder of parent and child sharing a read-aloud. My older son loved Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, the Carrot Seed, and anything about trucks, while my younger son asked to hear The Very Hungry Caterpillar almost every night. Now, looking back on why from the perspective of a grownup (and psychologist), he said: “Through its story and wonderful collage art, it gave vivid expression to feelings I was learning to manage myself, like joy, hunger, desire, illness (the caterpillar’s tummy ache) and the anticipation/anxiety of growing up into an adult… I remember always being surprised…by the caterpillar’s beautiful transformation into a butterfly. I can still hear my parents’ voices reading it to me.”

As a picture book author, it’s my hope that the words I write, which then take form in a book co-created with a supremely talented illustrator like Jing Jing Tsong, Henri Sorensen, or Frané Lessac, will provide meaning and joy to a child in this way. Such is the power of picture books, and why they are so important.

About Laura Krauss Melmed

Laura Krauss Melmed is the author of twenty fiction and nonfiction picture books for children, including the New York Times bestsellers, The Rainbabies and I Love You as Much. Her books have garnered many awards, including the ALA Notable Award; National Jewish Book Award; American Booksellers Association Pick of the Lists; Bologna International Book Fair Graphics Award: Best Book; CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book; Parent’s Choice Award; Oppenheim Gold Award; Publisher’s Weekly Flying Start; Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Master List; Best Book Working Mother Magazine; Best Book, Child Magazine; and Best Book, Denver Post. She holds an M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education, and has been a kindergarten teacher. She is a past president of the Children’s Book Guild.

Laura’s work often explores the bond between parent and child. In her most recent book, Before We Met, sumptuously illustrated by Jing Jing Song, an expectant mommy tells of her hopes and dreams while waiting for her child to be born. Forthcoming in 2018 is Daddy, Me and the Magic Hour, in which a little boy and his father explore the delights of a summer twilight walk. Laura loves connecting with students and teachers face-to-face through school visits and writing workshops. She tutors with Reading Partners, a national organization committed to helping children find the key to literacy.

“Picture books build empathy which is an important tool for navigating through society.”(from Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms by Marcie Colleen, 2013)

Literacy Activity
November 14 – Fathers

Father’s Day is months away but it is never too late nor too early to celebrate them. Think of the many awesome ways fathers are and can be. Have the class create a My Dad is Awesome list. From this list, guide students to make an appreciation card for their dads to bring home.

Suggested reading
Dad School by Rebecca Van Slyke
Beard In a Box by Bill Cotter
A Brave Bear by Sean Taylor
I’ll Never Let You Go by Smriti Prasadam-Halls
Rex by Simon James

Be sure to download the Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms for more engaging ideas and activities to bring picture books into the ELA, Math, Science, and Social Studies curriculum.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosemary Segalla November 14, 2017 at 2:52 pm

I wish I had grandchildren young enough to enjoy your terrific books! I guess I have to wait for great grandchildren to share your stories.


Pamela Ehrenberg November 14, 2017 at 8:08 pm

Such an important piece, Laura! You are so right that picture books play such a big role not only in developing literacy but also in developing worldviews–for small pre-readers as well as their loving caregivers. So glad to have talented people like you taking this on through your wonderful books!


Katherine Janus Kahn November 16, 2017 at 10:51 pm

I loved your (and your son’s) reading of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”. I love that book, and think it is one of the most brilliant picture book for the very young child.


Katherine Janus Kahn November 16, 2017 at 10:52 pm

I loved your (and your son’s) reading of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”. I love that book, and think it is one of the most brilliant picture books for the very young child.


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